Pittsburgh Pirates: Analyzing New Outfielder Ka’ai Tom
By Marty Leap
Wednesday morning the Pittsburgh Pirates claimed outfielder Ka’ai Tom off waivers from the Oakland A’s. What could the outfielder bring to the Bucs?
Prior to the start of Wednesday’s doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers, the Pittsburgh Pirates were busy making roster moves. One of these moves saw the team designate outfielder Anthony Alford for assignment, replacing him on the active roster with prospect Rodolfo Castro.
The team also made a waiver claim on Wednesday morning when they added outfielder Ka’ai Tom. Earlier in the week Tom was designated for assignment by the Oakland A’s. Now, he will get an opportunity to make an impact with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Prior to play on Wednesday the Pittsburgh Pirates were rolling with Alford and Dustin Fowler in center field. Like Alford, Fowler has struggled this season. After going 0-for-5 with four strikeouts on Wednesday, Fowler is now hitting for a woeful .171/.239/.195 slash line in 46 plate appearances. The most alarming part is Fowler’s 43.5% strikeout rate. Fowler has not just struggled this season, but he has largely looked overmatched at the plate.
Tom was a Rule 5 Draft pick by the A’s. Due to this, he had to remain on their active roster for the entire season. When the A’s decided to move on from Tom they had to designate him for assignment, had he gone unclaimed by the Pirates he would have been returned to the Cleveland Indians.
Moving forward, Tom will have to remain on the Pirate active roster. If not, the Pirates, like the A’s, will have to designate him for assignment. While Tom struggled in his short time with the A’s he could get an opportunity with the Pirates.
Tom had just 16 at-bats with the A’s, going 1-for-16 with 6 strikeouts. He made the roster following an impressive showing in Cactus League play when he hit for a .310/.412/.552 slash line while collecting 4 extra base hits.
The left-handed hitting 26-year-old Tom had an impressive showing during the last time there was a minor league season in 2019. During the 2019 season Tom played 81 games at the Double-A level and 51 at the Triple-A level. He hit for a .290/.380/.532 slash line to go with a 151 wRC+, 11.6% walk rate, 22.7% strikeout rate and he collected 60 extra base hits in 554 plate appearances.
While the A’s are in win now mode making it difficult for them to give Tom consistent ABs, the Pittsburgh Pirates are not in that position. As the Pirates continue their rebuild with the future being the main focus of their 2021 season they could give Tom a look in center field, especially with the team getting woeful production from the position.
Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs praised Tom when he selected in the Rule 5 Draft. Longenhagen mentioned how Tom has had a track record of above-average offensive production dating back to his college days, but that this never led to him being a highly touted prospect.
Throughout the minor leagues Tom has always hit the ball hard. He has had an above-average exit velocity and hard hit rate numbers in his minor league career. This has led to him slugging .434 at the Low-A level, .512 at Double-A and .564 at Triple-A.
Tom appears to be a great buy low addition for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He presents a zero risk, potential high reward addition to the active roster. With the center field position struggling it would not be a surprise to see the Pirates give Tom an opportunity for regular playing time. The same could go for right field if Gregory Polanco’s struggles, both offensively and defensively, continue.